Saturday, December 20, 2014

This Week in Texas Methodist History  December 21

Texas Annual Conference Convenes at LaGrange, Dec. 22, 1869

How would you like for Annual Conference to include Christmas?   Why hold an annual conference on a date that required preachers to be absent from their homes and congregations on Christmas Day—a traditional day of worship and family togetherness?  

The Texas Annual Conference was organized on Christmas Day 1840 and was in session several other years on that same date during the 19th century.  Methodism had sprung from Anglicanism so it did not have the anti-Christmas bias of Puritans.  Charles Wesley even wrote one of the most beloved Christmas carols. Scheduling Annual Conference during Christmas cannot be attributed to an anti-Christmas bias. 
Part of the reason annual conference could include Christmas without causing offense is that Christmas celebrations in the early 19th century were simpler affairs.  The mass merchandizing, commercial, consumption extravaganza to which we are now subjected had to wait until the infrastructure was in place—factories which  mass produced consumer goods available for gifts, rail transportation to distribute them, and mass advertising in the form of catalogs to whet consumer appetites.

Probably a more important reason is that annual conferences were held according to the schedule of the visiting bishops.  Methodist bishops, both MEC and MECS, presided over multiple annual conferences.  They, like circuit riding preachers, spent much of their time travelling between appointments.  For example, Bishop Beverly Waugh who organized the Texas Conference on Christmas left his home in Baltimore in September and spent the intervening months attending annual conferences on his way to Rutersville.
So it was that the 30th session of the Texas Annual Conference convened in LaGrange on December 22, 1869 with Bishop Wightman presiding.  A recent post discussed the exodus of African-American and German Methodists away from the MECS during Reconstruction.  Wightman’s job was to try to do something the problems associated with the departure of so many preachers and members.  

One way to slow down defections was to have more African American and German preachers.  Accordingly one of the local preachers ordained deacon (a step on the way to full ordination) was an African American---Solomon Fisher.  Fisher was sent to “Glover’s Colored Charge” in the Columbus District.  Another African American, W. F. Watkins, supplied the Pittsville Circuit in the same district.
Two German local preachers, Jacob Bader and William Knolle, were also ordained deacons and sent into the trenches.  About one-half the German Methodists preachers in Texas had just gone just over to the northern branch of the church so only 7 German circuits could be filled.

They were Houston, Bellville-Industry, Bastrop, New Braunfels, New Fountain, Fredericksburg, and Llano.  Bader went to New Fountain and Knolle to New Braunfels.  It so happens that New Fountain is my ancestral church home so Bader’s signature is on several of my great-great aunts and uncles marriage licenses. (Bader served New Fountain again in 1884.)

Both the African American and German circuits prospered—but not as part of the Texas Conference of the MECS.  The African Americans circuits became part of the newly-established CME, and the German ones part of a separate annual conference.

Jacob Bader—remained in the ministry.  At the 1875 Annual Conference, held in Houston at what eventually became Bering UMC, he was honored by being invited to preach.  His text was “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few.”   From Bader’s ordination in 1869 to 1875 the number of German MECS preachers had grown from 7 to 16.  It is true that that the number of laborers had increased, but there seemed to be so many German-speaking Texans hungry for the Gospel that even more were needed.


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